Agraria is one of the most prestigious home fragrance manufactures in the world and this year they are celebrating their 45th anniversary as leaders in the industry. Gathering an elite following over the last four and a half decades, Agraria was launched by interior designers Maurice Gibson and Stanford Stevenson in 1965 who built the sweet smelling empire from their first potpourri product into the global brand it is today. Current owners Peter Siderius & Jim Gentry have added even more elements to the Agraria collection and here they talk to The LuxPad about how their signature scents were discovered and how to find your perfect home fragrance…
How did the Agraria brand move from interior design to creating luxury home fragrance, what was the turning point?
Our founders, Stanford and Maurice, were interior designers and their motivation to create home fragrance products was to supply their clients with luxury potpourri and perfume candles. In the late 60s there were no American luxury home fragrance brands and they could not find any potpourri appropriate for the large porcelain bowls they always placed in their clients’ homes.
The first products were Bitter Orange Potpourri and the Balsam Perfume Candle. They wanted to compliment the citrus spice of Bitter Orange with the deep wood notes of Balsam. I think it is safe to say they might have been the first to layer 2 fragrances to create a third. Further to the idea of home fragrance and interior design, they always considered their aromatic products as decorative accessories…as do many designers such as Mario Buatta, John Saladino and Michael Smith. They all big Agraria fans and you can find bowls of Bitter Orange Potpourri in their published work.
How was Agraria’s original and most popular fragrance Bitter Orange first discovered?
The founders made yearly buying trips to Europe and brought back an antique French armoire in which they found an ancient recipe for making potpourri. They were able to gather many of the flowers and herbs from the garden in their San Francisco restored Victorian home and the spices they bought locally. The fragrance used to marry the potpourri was a combination of essential oils they bought in shops around San Francisco.
Why do you think this fragrance has remained so sought after even after 45 years?
I think the New York Times says it best when they described Bitter Orange as “uplifting, mysterious and androgynous in its appeal.” Plus no one has ever been able to duplicate it.
Where did your inspiration come from for the innovative AirEssences which include sola flowers rather than traditional reeds?
We thought we could make a prettier more effective reed diffuser. No matter how careful we were, it was almost impossible to turn reeds without dripping some oil down the outside of the bottle, and then the dust that collected on sticks was being put back into the oil. We were reminded that our founders named their company Agraria, and described it as “beautiful flowers growing in the fields.” The potpourri was truly an agrarian product and being full of actual flowers they collected and dried, we decided to re-interpret the sticks as flowers. We always recommended re-using the bottles as small flower vases, so why not start out that way.
Since the “flower” had to be a natural material and environmentally friendly, we found that sola flowers – also referred to as balsa wood flowers – were a good starting point. But we needed to add stems that would pull the oil up into the hand-made flowers. As each flower is made, petal-by-petal, it must be affixed to the stem to insure the flower “comes to life” with fragrance and “bloom” with the color of the fragrance oil. We tested for over a year to determine how they performed in heat, cold, sun, and wind, checking all the time for dirt accumulation, which never happened. (We still can’t explain why.) Now that the diffusers become fragrant flowers and stay fragrant on their own, there is no dirt going back into the bottle from flipping sticks.
Today we look at them and think, “what would have happened if diffusers had first been created with flowers rather than reeds?” Would anyone have ever thought to replace them with sticks that required flipping to diffuse the scent?
Do you both have a favorite Agraria fragrance which you use in your own home?
We’re both fans of “mixing and mingling” the fragrances throughout our homes, and they change according to the seasons or moods. Right now my favorites are Golden Cassis and Lime & Orange Blossoms, but I always have Lavender & Rosemary and Bitter Orange Potpourris in bowls in the entrance hall. In every closet I have 2 or 3 Balsam TasselAire on hangers – much easier than lining each closet in cedar. During the holidays I burn all 8 fragrances of the candles at the same time, but Peter scatters all 8 fragrances through out his house all year long. He also lines his front walk with Bitter Orange incense for parties – a trick he learned from Giorgio Armani who did the same thing outside his fashion show in New York several years ago.
Can you tell us how each exclusive fragrance is made?
We consider them all closely guarded trade secrets.
How are new scents created, do you have a process to select the fragrance notes?
As I mentioned, the first four fragrances (Nob Hill Fragrance Family) have not been touched since 1970 and never will be. Santa Barbara Fragrance Family, our newest scents, were developed over the past 9 years. We want the second four fragrances to become as timeless as the first four, so we evaluated scents we considered to be somewhat fashion-forward but added classic old world notes to create the best of both worlds. For example, Golden Cassis is a modern interpretation of currents and floral notes, but with the addition of Galbanum, an ancient spicy and earthy aroma associated with reducing stress.
(Watch for news this Fall about an exciting new fragrance collection we’re doing in collaboration with a well-known American fashion designer. We’ve been testing the scent for several months and the response is way beyond our expectations.)
Can we expect more innovative scenting inventions from the brand over the next few years?
Yes, we’re working on several projects now to add fragrance to your home in unexpected ways…still a beautiful decorative object but with the surprise of scent inside.
The brand is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, what was the inspiration behind the two gift boxes you have released?
As you know, we created a pattern to represent each fragrance, and you will find them now as part of the visual brand identity for all the products within each fragrance. For the 45th anniversary, we want to reference the past but link it to the future since we are on our 4th generation of fans. We decided to use the Bitter Orange fragrance pattern but with gold-on-gold foil paper on a box that references a treasure chest – one for the four Nob Hill PetiteEssence and one for the Santa Barbara PetiteEssence. Most importantly, we designed the interior packing materials to lift out leaving the fold-foil interior undamaged so the box can be saved to store your own valuable possessions.
What is your advice to anyone searching for their perfect home fragrance?
Try any and all and then live with them long enough to either fall completely in love with them or realize it was just a fling. The perfect home fragrance is one that each time you smell it you feel good all over…and watch the reaction of your friends when they enter your house. You can tell immediately if they’re wowed and ask for the name. When people visit our studio, where all 8 fragrances fill the building, the answer to their question, “What is that scent?” the answer is always the same – “That’s Agraria!”
The full Agraria collection is available at Amara, including the two Petite Essence 45th anniversary celebration boxes to discover all eight of the brand’s luxurious fragrances.